I honestly believe that Donald Trump is a deeply unhappy man. It’s been pointed out many times that he doesn’t laugh. He does smile sometimes, but more often he is grimacing.
See this analysis of Trump’s facial expressions. Very often he has a “puckered chin,” which the analyst explains this way:
The presence of this additional facial expression is quite significant because people often pull their chins in when they feel threatened – it’s a way of tensing the chin in anticipation of being symbolically punched in the face. The fact that a puckered chin features in so many of Trump’s zipped smiles suggests that he frequently feels threatened.
Conor Friedersdorf wrote last March that Trump has “an alarming relationship with trivial slights,” and since then we’ve seen so much more evidence of the sucking black hole of neediness in the depths of his soul. He must feel threatened a lot.
It appears to have really have angered him that his big moment — being inaugurated President of the United States — was dissed as not being quite as joyous or well-attended as other inaugurations. He’s like a bridezilla whose wedding was dissed. Of course, you have to have an outsize ego to even attempt to run for POTUS. But any emotionally normal person would have shrugged that off and focused on the job.
People are calling this calculated; he is undermining the credibility of the press in order to be able to establish a totalitarian regime. And there’s probably some truth to that. But it’s not the whole truth. He’s way too obvious and ham-handed about it. I sincerely believe it was important for Trump to believe he is more adored, more popular, more wonderful than Barack Obama, and I don’t doubt that the reports about the underwhelming inaugural turnout enraged him.
Again, this is not an isolated incident. There is a long and well-publicized pattern of his being unable to let go of even petty slights. And this bears a closer look.
Donald Trump, to me, has always been just a character who lived in the margins of popular culture somewhere, and I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to him in the past. But on reflection, it occurred to me that he’s not a man who really fits in anywhere. In spite of his wealth he seems to be only peripheral to New York City’s social elite. And I doubt he’s often if ever been invited to the exclusive soirées on Martha’s Vineyard.
He plays a Captain of Industry on teevee, but is he really part of the multinational corporate elite network? I doubt that, too. I can’t imagine that when Exxon or Nestlé or HSBC need a new high-level executive, that anyone has ever considered Donald Trump even for a second. Before this year, I doubt they’ve taken him all that seriously except as a second-tier businessman who owns hotels and golf resorts they may sometimes frequent. And has he ever mixed with the global elite crowd at Davos? I don’t think so.
And then there’s the intellectual Harvard/Princeton/Yale elite. Um, no.
In spite of being internationally famous as a Rich Guy, then, to the elite of the elite he’s always been the crass, nouveau riche kid from middle-class Queens.
One suspects this bugs him. He so obviously has an incessant craving for respect and even adulation. Frank Bruni wrote last March,
After Donald Trump asked voters at a recent rally to raise their hands heavenward in a pledge of fealty to him, a few commentators frothed at the gesture’s supposed evocation of a Nazi salute.
That wasn’t my take. As much as Trump appalls me, I don’t assign him control over the precise arcs of his supporters’ arms.
I was and am transfixed by something else: the scope and intensity of his hunger for adulation. It’s bottomless, topless, endless, insatiable. He gazed upon a teeming arena of admirers and neither their presence nor their numbers was quite enough.
He ached for an extra exhibition of their ardor. He had to issue a command and revel in their obeisance. I’m surprised only that he didn’t ask them to kneel or genuflect, but that could still come.
He plays to the masses because they cheer him, but it’s telling he is drawing heavily from the ranks of the Vulture Capitalism and Masters of the Universe crowds to fill his cabinet. These are the people he considers his peers, even if many of them kept him at arm’s length in the past. And now he rules them. This should be sweet!
But even after he got everything he could ever possibly want, it’s not enough. He still has no peace. People dissed his inauguration! He needed some love, so he goes to the CIA headquarters to talk to employees. “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did but I guarantee a big portion because we’re all on the same wavelength,” Trump said. Translation: You love me. I know you love me. #Sad!
Without ever having paid much attention to government policy, he’s now in charge of it. And he’s going to screw up and piss a lot of people off. His crude attempts to intimidate the press may (I hope) push at least a portion of it to criticize him even more.
His raging neediness can never be satiated, although I predict that he will make frequent rally appearances around the country to get his fix.
Now, here comes the sermon portion. In Buddhist terms Trump is what’s called an asura. This is a Sanskrit word translated as “titan” or “jealous god.” In Buddhist mythology, the asuras lived in a realm of wealth and power, but no matter how privileged they become they are seething with jealousy for what anyone else has. This can be understood as a mental or psychological state.
Iconography shows a massive tree growing out of the asura realm, but its blossoms and fruit are in the deva realm where the superior, not-jealous gods live. This makes the asuras crazy; they are perpetually assaulting the elite deva realm, but they never succeed in getting in.
It’s certainly the case that most high-level politicians and corporate leaders have a lot of asura traits. But you’d have a hard time finding anybody who more openly embodies asura qualities than Donald Trump. And he seems to already have a foot in the next realm, where asuras are reborn: the realm of pretas or hungry ghosts.
Hungry ghosts are miserable creatures with huge, empty stomachs, but they also have tiny mouths and soda-straw necks. Although they are ravenously hungry they cannot eat, and when they do manage to take in food it turns into fire or blood or pus in their mouths. Drug addicts are common modern-day examples of hungry ghosts.
So this is the doom of an asura; they crave more and more and more and cannot be satisfied. The crowds are never big enough; the gold is never bright enough. Even their gourmet food becomes tasteless (rather like the food in Trump Grill, I understand).
Back to Frank Bruni:
Commentators keep marveling at the way he “dominates” or “owns” almost every news cycle, as if what he says and does are all plotted in advance and part of some sophisticated, disciplined political strategy.
But is he executing a plan or surrendering to a jones? Brilliant or just fruitfully pathological? He mints fresh insults to monopolize the spotlight, but that’s most likely a spontaneous reaction to how cold and lonely he becomes whenever it starts to recede. Maybe he’s a multimedia mastermind, maybe just a publicity glutton. There’s a difference.
His media savvy may be more instinctual than calculated, I suspect, in which case he’s likely to make a lot of mistakes now that he’s in a completely new role.
There’s only one measure for Trump: more. More products bearing his brand. More buildings blaring his name. He’s a modern-day Midas, with a vain twist. Everything he touches turns to Trump.
He insists on that. Craves it. No reassurance sustains him for too long; no validation suffices. That would be as true of Trump the president as it is of Trump the candidate, and it would dictate the terms and the tempo of a reign from which this country would not soon recover.
He’s going to make a show of fulfilling his campaign pledges to make life better for those white working-class voters, but because he knows bupkis about government and policy, ultimately he will fail. And while the most hateful and racist among them will stick with him through thick and thin, many others will be disillusioned and stop going to his rallies. And he’s going to be facing a degree of derision and ridicule he has never known before and probably doesn’t expect.
He’s achieved the highest achievement on the planet, and it won’t be enough to make him happy. This is going to be very ugly, and very messy.
(As a side note, didja ever notice that the words miserable and miser share the same root? The Latin miser is an adjective meaning “unhappy, wretched, pitiable, in distress,” Hence, miserable. Miser as a noun for someone who hoards money originated in the 16th century, presumably because such people are unhappy, wretched, pitiable and in distress.)
Update: See also “He’s never going to admit he’s wrong in front of everyone”: President Trump’s aides are worried about his behavior